Feel-good movies about people with mental disorders – from “As Good As It Gets” to “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” and beyond – face the same challenge.
They have to take the psychological issues they deal with – depression, OCD, bipolar disorder – seriously enough to avoid trivializing or exploiting them. And they’ve got to tell a story that takes the viewer on a ride that has them rooting for, commiserating with and being entertained by the central character.
That’s a challenge that David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook” more than meets. Adapted from a novel by Matthew Quick, this film finds the laughs but also the pathos in this story of one man’s attempt to regain control of his life.
His name is Pat Solitano and, as played by Bradley Cooper, he’s just out of a mental hospital in Baltimore. As we eventually learn, he’s been hospitalized by court order, after beating the crap out of a colleague who was having an affair with Pat’s estranged wife, Nikki. Pat, a high school teacher, has used the time inside to start his own personal rehab program, including getting in shape and losing weight. (We hear about how much he’s lost but, thankfully, never see the fat Pat.)
But his self-improvement regimen – which includes reading all the novels on the syllabus of his wife, an English teacher – includes his determination that, if he can just follow the strategies he’s devised in therapy, he can win his wife back. And that restraining order she’s taken out against him? He’ll totally convince her to rescind it.
His parents, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and Dolores (Jackie Weaver), are cautiously optimistic for their son’s recovery, less so about returning to his marriage. And they’ve got problems of their own: Pat Sr., having lost his job and pension, has turned to book-making. Oh – and he’s a hardcore Philadelphia Eagles fan, so rabid that he’s been banned from Eagles’ games because he got into so many fights.
Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow whose sister is married to one of Pat’s best friends. They strike a chord – discordant, at first, then gradually more in tune – despite the fact that Pat’s blunt affect seems to put him somewhere on the Asperger’s spectrum. As it turns out, Tiffany offers Pat an avenue to reaching out to Nikki – but she wants something in return: a dance partner for a couples’ competition that seems a lot like the silly “Dancing with the Stars,” minus the stars.
This review continues on my website.